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The key difference between hemp and weed is how it's processed and cultivated


The Differences Between Hemp and Marijuana

It may surprise many people to know that recreational marijuana is only one of the plants within the cannabis genus.

The cannabis plant is one of the oldest crops grown by humans. Evidence suggests that cannabis farming began more than 10,000 years ago.1  It is now known that industrial hemp has exceptional application as an alternative medicine and can also be used in the production of textiles, eco-friendly plastics, construction materials, recyclable papers, and more.

So, what is the difference between hemp used for CBD and marijuana? The differences between hemp and marijuana, as well as the differences in the effects they have on the human body, are highlighted below. 

cannabis plant

Comparing Hemp and Marijuana

Genetic Differences

Cannabis is a genus of flowering plants from the Cannabaceae family. The cannabis genus contains two or possibly three sub-species known as Cannabis sativa, Cannabis indica, and Cannabis ruderalis, which may or may not be a subcategory of cannabis sativa.2

Cannabis sativa is the most widely used variety of the cannabis plant and is a fibrous and versatile crop. It can grow to reach a full height of 2.5 meters, or much higher under optimal conditions. The stalks, blossoms, leaves, seeds, and roots can be a source of quality oils, sturdy fibers, and even nutritious food.

Some of these Cannabis sativa plants were selected and cultivated to promote these specific qualities. According to some sources, they were also cross-pollinated with other plants that shared similar features, leading to the emergence of the crop that we now call hemp or industrial hemp. Cultivation processes were also improved to create a superior hemp product.

At the same time, other similar plants were being primed and prepared to produce a crop with potent psychoactive properties. These were not only valued for their purported medical and psychological benefits but for a variety of religious and spiritual purposes as well. This cultivation led to the production of the great variety of marijuana plants that have been interbred and crossbred with Cannabis indica to increase tetrahydrocannabidiol (THC) content and enhance psychoactive effects.

Therefore, the biggest differences between industrial hemp and marijuana is the genetic parentage of the plant itself and the environment in which it is cultivated.

THC vs. CBD Content

Selective breeding and different cultivation habits greatly enhance the differences between hemp and marijuana. One of the most notable differences between these plants are the levels of cannabinoids, the organic compounds unique to the cannabis plant.

Marijuana is cultivated in order to enhance THC content and can have a THC content of 10% or higher, depending on the specific strain. In fact, the Ghost Train Haze strain contains a whopping 25.5% THC, one of the highest ratios of dry herb to THC on record.3

In contrast, industrial hemp contains exceptionally low levels of THC. This characteristic is the primary distinguishing factor between hemp and marijuana. Additionally, industrial hemp typically has higher concentration of cannabidiol (CBD), which has recently become popular because of its demonstrated health benefits.

Legal Restrictions

Until recently, the restrictions that controlled the use of cannabis were severe. However, 2018 Farm Bill and Hemp Farming Act removed industrial hemp from the list of controlled substances and placed it on the list of agricultural commodities.

This has set the foundation for a hemp industry currently worth over $1 billion and continuing to grow.4  Additionally, the recent adjustment in cannabis regulations have allowed for more extensive research exploring the benefits of this versatile plant. 

woman putting CBD under tongue
Even though marijuana is sometimes used medicinally, it is still considered a narcotic by many standards and remains on the list of controlled substances. Some states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes and others have gone as far as allowing recreational use. However, the legalities that apply to industrial hemp in no way apply to the use and production of marijuana.

Benefits of Hemp

Industrial hemp provides health benefits due to its elevated CBD content. CBD products derived from industrial hemp have been clinically proven to relieve minor aches and pains, maintain healthy digestion, and reduce stress. Furthermore, as mentioned above, CBD products derived from industrial hemp are generally legal in the U.S., meaning a wide range of individuals can legally reap their benefits. 

Final Thoughts

An important takeaway when evaluating the differences between hemp and marijuana is that hemp-derived products, which contain CBD, do not cause a psychoactive high. This non-psychoactive aspect of hemp makes it a legal in the U.S., as a well as a great material for quality CBD products. 

Photo credits: Yarygin/, elizabethmph/, AlexandrGrant/

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